Claude Monet's view of the busy harbor of Le Havre is one of several paintings that he made when visiting the city in January 1874. Having lived in Le Havre as a child, he was familiar with the port and may have returned over the holidays in search of fresh material for paintings to exhibit with a newly organized group of independent artists. A recognizable view of the outer harbor and its array of sail-, steam-, and oar-powered ships, this painting was not included in the first independent exhibition of 1874. Instead, a less distinct view of the harbor was shown, which Monet titled Impression, Sunrise (Musée Marmottan, Paris); it was this title that led a bemused critic to dub the group the Impressionists. The short, blunt brushstrokes of Philadelphia's harbor painting have a nervous, fleeting quality that evokes the movement of water, boats, and people in the bright afternoon sunlight. Capturing a specific moment was critical to Monet's ambition; a related painting in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art shows an identical view of the harbor, but on a rainy day, when shimmering pools of water dotted the quay.
Jennifer A. Thompson, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 68
“Monet is only an eye, but by God what an eye!” exclaimed Paul Cézanne (French, 1840–1926) of his friend and fellow artist. In a career spanning nearly seventy years and 2,000 canvases, Monet turned his powers of observation to the natural world around him. Setting up his easel at various locations across France, he wrestled with winds, hot and cold temperatures, and constantly changing atmospheric conditions in his efforts to capture in paint the effects of weather, sunlight, and the seasons on the landscape.
Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art